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Tribeca 2011: Jean-Pierre Améris Delights With “Romantics Anonymous”

Tribeca 2011: Jean-Pierre Améris Delights With “Romantics Anonymous” (photo)

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Even before the credits begin on “Romantics Anonymous,” Jean-Pierre Améris’ comedy wins its audience over with a simple interpretation of “I Have Confidence” from “The Sound of Music,” made even more adorable by the way it’s sung by Angélique Delange (Isabelle Carré) as she strolls down the street. It’s bold, which is something the film’s characters Angélique and her soon-to-be boss Jean-Rene (Benoît Poelvoorde) are not, but that’s the charm of Ameris’ love story where the barrier to romance isn’t just getting the other person to let down their guard, but to overcome their own social anxiety. Which is a shame since besides a shared lack of self-assurance, Angélique and Jean-Rene have a love of good chocolate that they’ll need to sell if they’re to save Jean-Rene’s confectionary from bankruptcy.

Fortunately, Ameris didn’t let his own confidence issues come in the way of making “Romantics Anonymous,” instead drawing inspiration from it to make his first comedy after a career making dramas that have largely dealt with the subject of fear. Here, it is Jean-Rene’s fear of sweating through his shirt and Angélique’s dread at drawing attention to herself as an exceptionally talented chocolatier that often lead to the film’s considerable laughs and naturally, it came as a relief to the French writer/director that the comedy was received as one of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival’s word-of-mouth sensations. While in New York, Ameris spoke through a translator about what the Stateside reception has meant to him as well as what went into making “Romantics Anonymous” and how it can sometimes be very lonely making a comedy.

How did this film come about?

It was actually a long process. About 10 years ago, I started going to these Emotions Anonymous meetings [that Angélique attends in the film] and it was a stage in my life where I started developing fears of a lot of things, of even leaving my apartment. I refused dinner invitations. I didn’t want to go to film festivals anymore. And so I found out about the existence of this group, Emotions Anonymous and I joined them.

When I started attending those meetings, I was really touched to find out that there are so many people affected by this and people that you never would guess have this problem. For example, you’d see an apparently successful businessman or some really pretty women who go there and share that any kind of date is an issue for them. Because of the way I am, everything becomes cinema in my life, so I thought there could be a good movie to come out of that — talking about people whose fear is so deep, and their biggest fear is being looked at by others.

RomanticsAnonymous_04302011.jpgYou’ve almost exclusively directed dramas in the past. How did you know the subject matter lent itself to a comedy?

When I first started writing, it was very clear to me that the subject itself was comedic. When you go to these groups where you share your experiences, at the moment you experienced it, it seemed like catastrophe, but then the simple fact of talking about it makes you realize how funny it can be and people end up laughing. That laughter has a relief component. It really makes you feel that it’s fine. I think actually it would been pleonastic to make a drama out of such suffering.

Was it difficult for you to make the transition from comedy to drama?

It’s actually very difficult, as I found out, to work with comedies — when you write, when you shoot, when you edit. It requires you to be a lot stricter with the way you work and you never know at the outset whether a scene will make people laugh. For example, when we worked with a scene where [Benoit Poelvoorde] comes back with a shirt with ruffles instead of the plain shirt [during a dinner date], my actor didn’t believe in it and the people that were around us when we shot weren’t laughing that much, so I actually experienced some moments of true solitude as I was doing that.

You never know whether something will be successful until you show it to people and that’s something a lot of comedians that are well-known have said, that you always need to wait until you have feedback from the audience. I believe that working with comedy requires a lot of trust and a lot of bravery and a lot of discipline as well. It is a true risk and actually, this goes hand in hand with the type of subject I was dealing with. It’s about taking risks because instead of being funny, you can be ridiculous. And that’s a great risk, which I find very interesting and beautiful at the same time.

romanticsanonymous2_04302011.jpg Angélique, played by Isabelle Carré, sings to herself to boost her courage. How did that idea come about?

This idea came from the actress herself. It’s my second movie with her and it’s somebody I totally trust. She has a lot of points in common with the character herself and with me. When I wrote the script, I wrote it for her and when we were talking about it, she shared with me this bit of information about herself, which is that whenever she has to tackle a difficult situation, she actually sings a song and sometimes they’re songs that are on TV or often it’s the song from “The Sound of Music.” And that’s what we chose to put in.

It’s also interesting that this film deals with characters reaching middle age, which is a point where one doesn’t necessarily meet new people and a certain comfort sets in. Was that an interesting starting point for you to make a romantic comedy?

I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but you actually have a very good point. Actually, I wanted to show characters that were closer to my age – that was the initial idea. And this condition is something that starts out when you’re young, you’re growing up, but it continues. It never really stops. I think it’s really painful when we reach age 40, let’s say, and we realize we’ve failed at our love life and at our jobs because we’re paralyzed by fear. So I wanted to show people that we’re halfway through our lives and I wanted to show that everything was still possible. It was still possible to find love, to find professional success. I really set out to show that positive outcomes were possible.

Has seeing the film connect with audiences in New York been gratifying?

It was a pleasure, of course, to find out that the subject I tackled is truly universal and I’m particularly happy about the success in the United States because the film is nourished by my love for American romantic comedies of the ’50s, so it’s a little bit like going back to the source.

“Romantics Anonymous” does not yet have U.S. distribution, but will play the Tribeca Film Festival on April 30th at 9:45 p.m.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.